Don't believe the hype, Willingham says

SEATTLE - Even the boy in the bubble knew how good USC's football team was going into their game with Washington this past Saturday. If someone on the east coast had to name a west coast football team to save their life, chances are 100 percent they'd immediately think of USC. And why? If you have to ask, you haven't read a newspaper or turned on a television in quite a while.

Tyrone Willingham knew he had a tough enough time as it was preparing his team to play the No. 1 team in the country. He didn't need anyone else talking about it. And it was a message he'd been talking about from the beginning of the season anyway.

"If you read USC's press clippings and what they've done the last couple of years, there were people around our football team that were emphatic about it," Willingham said Monday, as the Huskies get a week off to prepare for the dreaded BYE this weekend. "'Guys, you'll be lucky if you're within three touchdowns of these guys'...and you just can't believe that. Unfortunately when all these things are swirling around you, you begin to question, you begin to wonder. Our football team needs to believe that yes, they can accomplish great things. And we felt like, even though we did not play as well as we'd like to - and some people are saying that SC didn't play as well as they would have liked to."

He probably understated every part of that thought, but Willingham knows the importance of not believing the hype. As one who has defied convention and stereotypes for the greater part of his life, the Huskies' Head Coach would probably not be coaching the Huskies right now if he caved into whatever the logic of the day happened to be. Because when you're trying like the dickens to gain support for an idea that hasn't fully taken root - the last thing you need to hear is the booming monotone of conventional wisdom shouting you down.

You can't win. The odds are stacked against you. "I think you've seen it all year," Willingham said of the 'hype'. "I don't know what people gave us. Syracuse was a 50/50 maybe. I think our team came out and played well. Against Boise (State) they played well. Still not perfect, still not doing a lot of the things we'd like to do. Against Ohio State, we were going pretty strong. If you take out about five or seven minutes, you have a different ball game."

And for those that read the above and immediately jump to 'moral victories', please don't. Willingham quickly extinguished any thought of that. "There are no excuses," he added. "We have not yet reached the level in which our players are comfortable with, or I am comfortable with. The effort that our team put forth on Saturdays has been fairly consistent. But we've had stretches where we've put ourselves behind the 8-ball, and we have to eliminate those."

And the hype train keeps rolling down the tracks. At first it was determined that the Huskies first five games might be the hardest stretch of Washington's scheule. So far they've played the current No. 2 (USC) and No. 4 team (Ohio State), and Sagarin determined their schedule through five games to be the hardest of anyone in the country. Yet the schedule hardly gets that much easier. They still play four teams currently ranked in the AP top-25, starting with No. 18 Arizona State - a must-win if they want to keep their hopes of a bowl game alive. No. 3 California, No. 14 Oregon and No. 16 Hawaii also loom on the horizon.

"It's amazing what happens when you put pressure on people," Willingham said, harkening back to the USC game. "When you get things, you play with pressure, you play with enthusiasm. It's amazing how difficult it becomes for them. Some of that we induced for USC. It wasn't just them not being totally up to speed. I thought our guys put some pressure on them to do some things right."

It was just three weeks ago when a couple of the Washington players talked to the media in terms of winning a national championship. At the time they were coming off a win over a top-25 program, and were undefeated. Times have changed, and so has the hype.

In other words, you try to find that balance so that hype becomes a non-issue. The effort is there. Now it's just a matter of the execution and consistentcy in all three phases (offense, defense and special teams) matches the effort the Huskies have been putting forth since Game One.

"You retool your focus," Willingham said. You tell them that it's a great thought (winning a national championship), but let's keep pressing forward. We just restructure things a little bit."

Restructuring things won't be a problem this week. The team will be using the time off to get healthy and to work some of the younger players in the mix. There will be more scrimmaging for them, and in the process Willingham and his staff just might find a few underclassmen that could help them at some point during their eight-game stretch. That means more scrimmaging and less work with the veterans than during a normal game week.

"Any time you can help yourself health-wise, it's nice to have a chance to rest and reflect," Willingham said. "It affords us a chance to look at a lot of guys."

So Willingham is buying the BYE week hype? Not so fast.

"It is what it is," he said. "Anytime it comes, you take advantage of it. We deal with the circumstances and march forward."

Willingham mentioned the defensive backs and running backs as positions where the coaches are anxious to see who emerges from those groups as capable backups, but he also stressed that they are looking for upgrades at every position. "There's not one spot on our team where we can say, 'Oh boy! We're there'.

"We're growing," Willingham said. "That's where we are at. When you're growing, you define who you are more and more each day."

And maybe that definition will include being a hype problem for someone else. I'm sure Willingham wouldn't mind that one bit, because it will have meant one big thing...wins. Maybe even lots of wins. And we know what comes with that.

More hype.
Pepsi and Scout Team Players of the Game: Saturday's game was a rarity; no Pepsi Offensive Player of the Game. Here are the rest of the players honored. Pepsi Players of the Game: Offense - None; Defense - Mesphin Forrester; Special Teams - Roy Lewis. Scout Team Players of the Game: Offense - Tony Chidiac; Defense - Darrion Jones; Special Teams - Brandon Yakaboski.

Injury report: Not too much to talk about Monday. Willingham was asked about Jason Wells, who left the USC game with an apparent knee injury, but the UW Head Coach would not comment directly on the injury or for how long he expected the junior safety to be out. "His return to us would be on a long-term basis," was all Willingham said. He also said that they have two weeks to determine Wells' replacement, should he not be able to go. Right now it's looking like Darin Harris and Nate Williams would be the two most likely to compete for that spot.

Where's McDowell?: Willingham was asked Monday about Vonzell McDowell, Jr., and he said that the frosh corner from Rainier Beach - who started the first three games of the season, but was pulled in favor of Matt Mosley for the last two games - is still very much in the mix at that position, as well as on special teams. "He's doing a good job learning and growing," Willingham said of McDowell. "His progress is continuing. It's always better if you are in there, experiencing it, but we want that experience to be positive. Having this opportunity to step back while still getting a chance to work and be in there too is all good."

Murchison back with the team: Washington cornerback Jordan Murchison is back with the team, as of Sunday - Willingham announced Monday. Also per Willingham, it doesn't sound like he'll receive any addition team-related sanctions for his off-the-field issues. Per the Seattle P-I on Friday, Murchison agreed to a stipulated order of continuance, or a "deferred prosecution," to wrap up a domestic violence charge from June, a King County Superior Court spokesman said.

If Murchison adheres for two years to guidelines set forth in the order, the charge will be dismissed. Those guidelines typically involve counseling and the mandate to avoid additional trouble with the law. Failure to comply usually leads to a harsher sentence than what would have originally been levied.

Murchison was sentenced last Friday on a separate assault charge to one year in jail, but had all but two days suspended. He had already served those days.

Murchison has been suspended from the team since August. Per NCAA rules, a player must go through five days of 'acclimatization' before they can participate, but Murchison had gone through three days before being suspended, and went through his fourth official day Sunday. "He won't be missing any time," Willingham said, although he couldn't answer whether or not Murchison would be available to play at Arizona State in two weeks. Top Stories